City of London commune
Mon Aug 11 01:05:43 2003


In Saxon London and in the medieval period, municipal authority rested principally with Aldermen ('elder' men), who met in the City's ancient Court of Husting - the supreme court of the medieval City, with administrative and judicial functions. There is reliable evidence of its existence in 1032 although it was probably much older and by the mid-12th century it was held weekly. It is likely that the Court of Aldermen developed from the administrative side of the work of the Court of Husting.

London, like other cities, was subject to the authority of the Crown through its Sheriff - the Shirereeve or Portreeve. But in the 12th century, as a move towards civic independence, an association of citizens under oath - the commune - was established. At the same time the office of Mayor was created and Henry FitzAilwyn took office in 1189 (whether by appointment or election is unclear).

In 1191 the commune was officially recognised by Prince John when his brother Richard the Lionheart was away at the Crusades, and in 1199 John, now King, granted the citizens of London the right to elect their own Sheriffs - a particularly significant right as the Sheriff was the King's representative through whom the City was governed. The citizens' right to elect a Mayor annually was granted by King John in a charter of 1215.

The commune may have been the origins of the development of another element of local government in the City. Gradually Aldermen began to summon 'wise and discrete' citizens from their Wards to their meetings for consultation on particular matters. In 1285 a group of 40 citizens, one to four from each Ward, were to consult with the Aldermen on the common affairs of the City. From 1376 this assembly had regular meetings and was known as the Common Council. It gradually assumed greater responsibilities and the business of the Court of Aldermen declined.

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